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Burt Reynolds, Hollywood film star, dies aged 82

Burt Reynolds - REUTERS/Dylan Martinez

Burt Reynolds, Hollywood film star, dies aged 82

Burt Reynolds, Hollywood film star, dies aged 82

Much-loved star of hits such as Deliverance and Boogie Nights, Burt Reynolds, dies aged 82, in Florida.

Burt Reynolds, star of Deliverance, The Longest Yard and Boogie Nights, has died aged 82. The star had undergone a quintuple heart bypass in February 2010 but had been working until recently; he was filming Quentin Tarantino’s movie about the Charles Manson murders, Once Upon A Time in Hollywood, and died at a Florida medical centre.

Reynolds, who famously turned down the roles of James Bond and Han Solo, nevertheless forged a film career that marked him out as a singular talent.
A Michigan native transplanted to Florida, he was an American football player in his youth, but switched to acting after a knee injury was aggravated by a car accident. Discouraged, Reynolds started part-time lessons at Palm Beach Junior College, where his acting talent was spotted by an English teacher who liked the way he read Shakespeare.

He soon found regular work on stage and in TV, but delayed heading to Hollywood, citing a lack of confidence after being turned down during his first audition (for the 1957 war romance Sayonara) for looking too much like Marlon Brando. Brando got the role. 

Reynolds eventually made his debut in 1961’s Angel Baby, a pulp thriller about religious zealotry in the American south.

His profile got a bump in the early seventies when he posed naked on a bear skin rug for Cosmopolitan magazine, but his film breakthrough arose shortly after with Deliverance – another story of backwoods behaviour – in which Reynolds starred opposite Jon Voight. He played Lewis Medlock, an Atlanta businessman who, with three friends, is stalked and attacked by violent locals while on a river boating trip through rural Georgia.

The Longest Yard, Robert Altman’s 1974 sports drama about prisoners who play American football against their guards, allowed Reynolds to combine hobbies. He played Paul “Wrecking” Crewe, the charismatic team leader of inmate team the “Mean Machine”, who finds himself compromised after being threatened with more jail time if he doesn’t throw the game. The film was later remade with Adam Sandler taking the ball as Paul “Wrecking” Crewe, while Reynolds played Coach Nate Scarborough.

Another enduring hit came in 1977 when Reynolds starred in Smokey and the Bandit, a madcap action comedy in which the actor played a rebellious trucker, Bo Darville (aka “Bandit”), hired to drive bootleg booze across state lines. Another petrolhead hit came with 1981 Hal Needham comedy The Cannonball Run, about a cross country car race.

Later the red leather jacket Reynolds wore in Smokey and the Bandit was part of a collection of memorabilia sold off by the actor in 2014 to pay off mortgage debts of a rumoured $1.4 million. Also among the auctioned items was the best supporting actor Golden Globe award Reynolds won for his role in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights.

Set in the 1970s porn industry, Anderson’s film rejuvenated Reynolds career by casting him as the pragmatic, occasionally ruthless adult film director Jack Horner. That was his only Oscar-nominated performance.

Arnold Schwarzenegger called Reynolds one of his heroes in a tweet. “He was a trailblazer. He showed the way to transition from being an athlete to being the highest paid actor, and he always inspired me.”

In a tribute posted to Instagram, fellow action star Sylvester Stallone added “he had a great sense of humor and I enjoyed his company so much … RIP”.
Sally Field, his Smokey and the Bandit co-star who Reynolds had described as the “love of my life,” said: “My years with Burt never leave my mind. He will be in my history and my heart, for as long as I live. Rest, Buddy.” 

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